Testing has been central to containing the spread of COVID-19 across the country and on our campus. Now, at-home testing kits offer a more accessible way to get quick test results.
In recent months, however, home testing has become increasingly difficult to find, including in North Carolina. Last week, the Biden administration announced it would buy another billion home rapid tests to be distributed free of charge.
In light of this development, here’s a guide for students who want to take tests at home and see how accessible the distribution process actually is:
Request a kit from NCDHHS
In partnership with Labcorp, the NC Department of Health and Human Services has implemented a COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit Program. Although this option doesn’t provide quick results, it is an efficient way to access a PCR test from home or in isolation.
If you request a kit online, it will be shipped directly to you overnight. Follow the instructions on the kit, return your sample using the prepaid shipping label provided, and your results will be available online within a day or two.
However, 19 million Americans — 6 percent of the US population — do not have access to fixed-line broadband service at reasonable speeds. Almost 25 percent of the rural population have no access to services. This makes requesting a test online inaccessible to some of the people who need it most. Research has shown that rural Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19 than their urban counterparts.
Purchase home testing kits that are reimbursed by your insurance company
Most private insurers must reimburse you for up to eight tests per person per month for purchased COVID-19 test kits. Starting January 15, it’s important to keep home test purchases if you have private insurance.
However, having to pay for a test out of pocket is not an option for many individuals and families, making it inaccessible to people of various financial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, as of 2020, 8.6 percent of Americans, or 28 million, had no health insurance at any point in the past year, making this option obsolete for these people.
The nationwide COVID-19 test distribution program
Back to the one billion tests bought by the Biden administration. Beginning January 19, you can request a test kit from COVIDTests.gov.
Similar to the NCDHHS program, this federal effort only serves those with reliable broadband Internet access, and this disadvantages many rural Americans. Additionally, it takes seven to 12 days from the time of ordering for this test to be received — a waiting time that exceeds the isolation and quarantine period for asymptomatic COVID-19 infections recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While these options to get a free COVID-19 test are advances, they’re not big enough. With the increase in omicron cases, it is imperative that these tests and resources be available to everyone, regardless of their geographic, socioeconomic, and financial status.
That means making rapid tests free in pharmacies, sending free home tests to everyone without having to order them, and speeding up the testing process. Only then can we actively fight COVID-19 and see an end to the pandemic – with or without further variants.
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